A woman poisons her second husband with antifreeze. But when the cops exhume her first husband’s corpse and discover that he died the same way, they close in on her. In a panic, the woman attempts to kill her own daughter. She forges a suicide note in her daughter’s name, in which her daughter claims responsibility for the two murdered men.
Such villainy is so outrageous that it sounds like a movie. And it is a movie—Poisoned Love: The Stacey Castor Story aired on Lifetime on February 1, 2020. But it’s also a true story. Stacey Castor was a real person. And she’s not the only woman to turn a murderous eye upon her husband.
A&E True Crime looks at some of the most notable “black widows,” and the unbelievable lengths they went to off their spouses.
Investigators first started paying attention to Stacey Castor on August 22, 2005, when she called 911 to report that her second husband, David Castor, hadn’t shown up for work. His body was found in their Syracuse home and investigators found a cup full of antifreeze on his bedside table.
Authorities first considered the death a suicide, but later became suspicious of Castor. They exhumed the body of her first husband, Michael Wallace, whose death five years prior at the age of 38 had initially been ruled a heart attack. When the autopsy on Wallace revealed that he, too, had died of Ethylene glycol poisoning (i.e. antifreeze), Castor became the prime suspect.
In response to the increased scrutiny, Castor attempted to kill her daughter, Ashley Wallace. After Michael Wallace’s body was exhumed, investigators told Ashely—then 20 years old—that her father had died years prior from poisoning. They suspected foul play. That night and the next, Ashley went out drinking with her mother. Over two nights, Castor gave her daughter vodka cocktails laced with prescription pills, then typed a suicide note in Wallace’s name claiming responsibility for the murders.
Ashley survived the “suicide attempt.” Castor was indicted and convicted of second-degree murder of her second husband, David Castor; attempted murder of her daughter; and forging David Castor’s will. She was sentenced to 51 years in prison, but died in her cell seven years later of a heart attack, at the age of 48. Officials did not suspect foul play.
Like Castor, Alabama grandmother Nannie Doss was convicted of killing her husbands by poisoning. But her record of homicide was lengthier and even more familial: four husbands, two children, a mother-in-law, a grandson, two sisters and her own mom.
Born in 1906 in the small town of Blue Mountain, Doss claimed that her murderous impulses came from a head injury she suffered on a train at the age of 7.
Police only grew suspicious of Doss after her fifth husband’s death in 1954. Samuel Doss spent weeks hospitalized after eating a poisoned prune cake that Doss had baked. Then, a week after returning home from the hospital, he died after ingesting arsenic-laced coffee.
After an autopsy revealed the poisoning, Nannie Doss was detained, where she flirted with the attending officers and confessed to murdering Samuel Doss as well as three of her four previous husbands: Robert Harrelson, Arlie Lanning and Richard Morton. Autopsies revealed that they had all died by arsenic, as had her mother. Her other victims had been smothered to death.
Serial killer Nannie Doss died of natural causes in prison in 1965, at the age of 59.
A New Hampshire high school group counselor, Pamela Smart became romantically involved with one of her students, William “Billy” Flynn.
Fearing lost financial security in the event of a divorce from her husband, Smart convinced Flynn to kill her spouse, Gregory Smart, on her behalf. Flynn, along with a group of three friends, drove to the Smart family home in Derry, New Hampshire where they held Gregory down. The 16-year-old Flynn shot Smart in the head with a .38 caliber pistol, killing him.
The crime drew national attention, inspiring several books and a 1995 film starring Nicole Kidman.
For her role, Smart was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, accomplice to murder, and witness tampering. She was sentenced to life without parole and is currently incarcerated at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York.
Flynn pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 28 years to life. He was released in 2015, at the age of 41.
Betty Lou Beets
The “Black Widow of Texas,” Betty Lou Beets was born in 1937. She had five husbands in all, and a long history of violence prior to the homicides she committed. She shot her second husband—Billy Lane—in the head in 1970. Lane survived his injuries, Betty Lou Beets was acquitted, and they even made a second go of it, remarrying for a month. She attempted to run over her next husband, salesman Ronnie Threlkeld, with a car.
Beets’ final two husbands, Doyle Wayne Barker and Jimmy Don Beets, ended up buried in the front yard of her trailer home in East Texas.
Prosecutors only tried Beets for the second of the murders, claiming she’d committed the act to collect on her husband’s life insurance. At trial, she accused her son, Robert Branson, of the killing.
He testified against her, saying he’d helped his mother move one of the dead victims into a filled-in wishing well and then helped plant flowers over the corpse.
Betty Lou Beets was sentenced to death in 1985, and executed by lethal injection in 2000.
What Drives Some Women to Kill Their Kids?
The Disturbing Reasons Why Some Men Kill Their Families
What Really Happened to Belle Gunness, Serial Killer and Butcher of Men?